Justin Taylor joined AJ Foyt Racing in the offseason to become the race engineer for Sebastien Bourdais in the No. 14 ROKiT Chevrolet.
Taylor, 40, started his career as a mechanic in 1999 while pursuing an engineering degree at Colorado State University. He has worked as a data engineer, a performance engineer and finally became a race engineer in 2014. His resume lists stints in the World Endurance Championship, IMSA, American Le Mans Series and INDYCAR. While working for Audi Sport, he lived in Ingolstadt, Germany, 45 miles north of Munich.
Denver native Taylor will engineer Bourdais’ car during the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg this weekend on the streets of the Frenchman’s adopted home city in Florida. Bourdais is a two-time winner of the race and is coming off a strong fifth-place finish in the season-opening Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by AmFirst last weekend at Barber Motorsports Park.
Here’s the conversation:
Question: How did you get interested in racing?
Justin Taylor: My dad got the whole family into SCCA racing when I was 10 years old. I was infatuated immediately.
Q: What were the first races you attended in person?
Taylor: Saturday nights watching the modifieds and late models race at Colorado National Speedway, a 3/8th-mile paved oval in Erie, Colorado.
Q: What other race positions have you held before joining this team (including series and teams and durations)?
Taylor: 3R Racing – SCCA World Challenge GT – mechanic 1999-2004; Audi Sport – American Le Mans Series/International Le Mans Cup/World Endurance Championship – data engineer 2005-2008, performance engineer 2009-2013, race engineer 2014-2016; Ed Carpenter Racing – INDYCAR – race engineer 2017; Mazda Team Joest – IMSA DPi – chief race engineer 2018; Oreca/Rebellion Racing – World Endurance Championship – race engineer 2018, chief race engineer 2019-2020.
Q: What is the most significant achievement in your career so far? Did it change your perspective?
Taylor: Winning the 24 Hours of Le Mans 2014. Winning once only made the desire to win again even stronger.
Q: Why did you turn your attention to INDYCAR instead of NASCAR?
Taylor: Although I do enjoy oval racing, I'm partial to road and street courses.
Q: What is the most challenging part of engineering an NTT INDYCAR SERIES car?
Taylor: Getting the most out of the tires at the right moment requires a lot of knowledge of the track, weather, driving style and precise planning.
Q: Is it more difficult at the track or coming up with the starting setup for the track?
Taylor: Tuning the setup at the track is certainly more difficult than creating a start setup simply because of the shorter timeframe to research and make decisions.
Q: What do you enjoy about working with Sebastien Bourdais?
Taylor: He's always trying to make it less of a job and just enjoy what we are doing.
Q: From your perspective, what are his strengths as a driver?
Taylor: His understanding of the tires is fantastic, and he can explain his feelings in language that we as engineers can understand.
Q: How do you deal with the frustrations inherent in racing?
Taylor: Not very well! (Laughter). Seriously, I try my best to treat mistakes and failures as opportunities to learn and improve.
Q: What is the best part of your job?
Taylor: The “team” feeling you get when everything goes to plan, and you end up on the top of the podium.
Q: Since you enjoy traveling, do you have a favorite vacation spot?
Taylor: It's hard to put my finger on a favorite place to visit, but I am partial to northern Italy: Lake Garda, Cinque Terre, etc.
Q: Who has been the greatest influence in your life?
Taylor: Aside from my mom and dad, probably my eighth-grade math teacher, Mr. (Howard) Selbst, who showed me that it was cool to be excited about math and science.